By Dr. Matt Robinson
University of Delaware Sport Management Program

NEWARK, Del. -- For the University of Delaware football program and its faithful, Dec. 6, 2003 is remembered for the Blue Hens routing NCAA playoff rival Northern Iowa 37-7 on its march to the 2003 NCAA I-AA national championship as well as for the blizzard that struck the night before and the morning of the game.

For the students -  and now alumni - of the UD Sport Management program, they too remember the victory and take pride in their role in helping to make the game even happen.

“I can’t remember a time in my life that I have been colder,”  said Melissa Schaaf, a 2007 graduate and currently Director of Marketing for the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. 

Schaaf was one of approximately 30 UD Sport Management students who were at Delaware Stadium at 7 a.m. on that frigid December morning to assist the athletic department in preparing the stadium for a noon kickoff.  

“It is also one of my favorite memories of my time at UD,” Schaaf added.

The mid-week forecast called for the storm to hit Newark on Friday evening into early Saturday morning. 

“Jerry Oravitz, the Director of Football Operations, called me Wednesday and asked if the storm hit, could our students be there to help out,” stated Matthew Robinson, Director of the Sport Management Program. “I told him to count us in.”

The Sport Management Program had only started in the Fall of 2001, and at the time, Robinson was the lone professor in the program.  He recruited the students from the two sport management courses he was teaching that semester.

“To me, as much as we were helping out the athletic department and football program, I saw it as a learning opportunity for our students," stated Robinson. "A lot of students come in thinking the sport management profession is all glamour and glory. The reality is that there is a lot that goes into a game and you have to plan for every possible contingency, like a blizzard. My hat was off to the Athletic Department for planning for the worst and being prepared.”

And the storm did hit.

“I remember standing in back of the Bob Carpenter Center at 5 a.m," stated Oravitz. “The snow was coming down sideways. You could not see your hand in front of your face. I thought there was no way the game was going to get played.”  

The UD football staff, the on-site NCAA representative, and ESPN-TV all wanted to play on Saturday and the forecast called for clear skies once the storm cleared. 

To tackle the 11 inches of snow that fell, approximately 30 to 40 University Grounds staff was assisted by 40 to 50 temporary workers hired from a local temp agency, volunteers who included community members, including then Mayor Vance Funk, season ticket holders, and sport management students.

Mitch Heckert, a 2006 Delaware graduate and a member of the UD baseball team, was among those there that morning. 

“I remember they had to borrow the tarp from our baseball field to help cover the field the night before," Heckert remembered. "But then, the difficulty became trying to clear the snow off the tarps. At the end of the day, it was a fantastic feeling to be able to stand on the sidelines during that game knowing that if we had not put in that kind of work, the game would not have been played!”

UD students were on the field assisting with clearing the tarp, eventually removing the tarp, and also shoveling the stairways and main aisles in the stands to make passage as safe as possible for the spectators..  

David Arthur, a 2007 Delaware graduate who currently serves as the Executive Director for the Delaware Sport Commission and who worked previously with the Wilmington Blue Rocks also remembers that day well.

“That cold morning of shoveling definitely opened my eyes to what a career in sports is all about," said Arthur. "While our friends slept in, we worked our butts off clearing the snow from the field and the stadium, so that those same friends could come and witness an exciting Blue Hens playoff victory. The experience prepared me well for hundreds of tarp pulls during my time in minor league baseball and for the planning and execution of the various events the Delaware Sport Commission brings into the state.”

Saul Rafel-Frankel, a 2006 Delaware graduate and current Director of Basketball Operations for the UD men’s basketball program, had a different version of the story than his good friend Arthur.

"I saw Dave standing around the whole time while we were freezing and doing all of the work," Rafel-Frankel joked. "Seriously, it was a great day for the Blue Hens.”

Just after the tarp was pulled off, Robinson spotted ex-Ohio State football coach John Cooper, who was announcing the game for ESPN. 

“Coach Cooper asked who the students were and I told him they were UD Sport Management students," Robinson said. "He shook his head and said, 'that would never have happened at OSU.' "

Edgar Johnson, who was the UD Director of Athletics at the time and who is now a professor in the Sport Management Program, has strong memories of that frigid morning.

“What I remember most fondly was when the snow was removed from the tarp and the tarp pulled off the playing field, how bright green the grass was and how well it showed up on television," said Johnson. "The sport management students played a major role in getting the game played under such adverse circumstances. They worked tirelessly and almost to exhaustion.

“Overall, it remains one of the proudest moments in UD event management and football history that we were able to pull-off such a feat and have approximately 11,000 people attend the game," continued Johnson. "It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone pulling together to overcome such a weather challenge. The sport management students had a real-life hands-on learning experience in adverse conditions. Working together we were able to clear the field and the kickoff was delayed by only 30 minutes. The NCAA representative and the ESPN production staff were elated.”

The picture of the students and Robinson was taken by a Northern Iowa fan who came out to the stadium early.  

“He was great, he emailed it to me on Monday,” stated Robinson. “The picture hangs in my office to this day. I was so proud of the students and I was glad the sport management program was able to contribute to the effort. I think it helped forge a relationship with the UD Athletics Department that exists to this day.“

Students who were there that day have gone on to do great things in the sports industry as well as in other professions.

"When we met in class the following week, we talked about the experience and the planning process of the Athletic Department and the importance of the game being played," said Robinson. "This was no simulation, it was the real thing. I told them that this was something they would still remember 10 years from now. Those 10 years passed rather quickly.”